Report: Avoiding an explosion in Burundi

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Today FIDH and ITEKA have published a new investigative report on the situation in Burundi, in which the organisations outline the political violence that has plagued the country in recent months preceding the outbreak of intense violence we see today.

The report demonstrates how the breakdown of political dialogue, the impunity of perpetrators of what have often been grave human rights violations, the lack of effective security sector reform, and the instrumentalisation of justice have resulted in the current security crisis and degradation of the political situation.

According to Dismas Kitenge, FIDH Vice-President, who led the investigative mission in Burundi, "the violent clashes which we are now witnessing in Burundi are the direct result of a crackdown led by the regime of Pierre Nkurunziza in recent years, which has intensified ahead of the general elections. Our report shows how and why mistrust now prevails towards public institutions, the police, and the justice system in Burundi, and how this mistrust threatens to hurt the country’s stability."

The investigation by FIDH and ITEKA served to document several cases of politically motivated acts of violence targeting opposition activists, in particular. The evidence gathered shows that in 2014 and 2015, opposition activists were subjected to intimidation, threats, and physical violence, most notably at the hands of Imbonerakure, the youth league of the CNDD-FDD, the party in power. Even more worrying is the fact that these abuses were often perpetrated with the complicity of public officials (police, intelligence services, and local administrators). Security remains a major concern in Burundi, and the report shows that the authorities have not responded adequately to prevent abuses, including summary and extrajudicial executions attributed to the defense and security forces.

The report also reveals the tactics used by those in power to suppress dissent voices of dissent, notably human rights defenders and journalists, and explains how the manipulation of the justice system contributes to this end.

Today, one month before the general election, fears of a serious degradation of the political and security situation are very real. The question of a possible third term for President Pierre Nkurunziza has dominated public debate in recent months, sharpening the divisions between political groups and fanning the discontent of large parts of the population. In light of the violent response by the police against those who have publicly protested a third term for the outgoing president, the risk of a political stalemate that would lead to an escalation of violence is undeniable.

The clashes in recent days have already had a heavy toll. At least 13 people, including one soldier, have reportedly been killed, mostly as a result of live ammunition used by the police against protesters. At least 161 people have been injured, many seriously. Nearly 600 protesters have been arrested and detained, and there are reports of the mistreatment of some detainees. Several reports have corroborated the involvement of elements of the Imbonerakure alongside the police in the repression of demonstrators. In several districts of the capital, such as Kanyosha-Mairie, the Imbonerakure have reportedly appeared armed with guns and fired warning shots to prevent demonstrators from reaching the street, and have even thrown grenades at some protesters. In other areas such as Kinama, they reportedly beat and detained demonstrators before handing them over to the police. Additional information indicates that on 6 May approximately eight Imbonerakure were captured and beaten by protesters in Kanyosha-Rural before being turned over to the military.

The violence has been coupled with restrictions on fundamental freedoms, including the closure of one of the most popular radio stations, RPA, and severe restrictions on two others, Bonesha FM and Isanganiro, who have been prohibited from broadcasting in the provincial areas.

In light of this serious situation, the international community has a responsibility to prevent further escalation of violence and degradation of the political and security situation in Burundi. In the report, our organisations notably call on the United Nations and the African Union to increase not only their political and diplomatic engagement in Burundi, but also to consider using other mechanisms, such as sanctions, in order to stop the violence, push for the resumption of political dialogue, and reestablish rule of law in Burundi.

If Pierre Nkurunziza does not personally withdraw his own candidacy, which is very unlikely, and Burundian actors are not able to reach a negotiated agreement to end the political stalemate, our organisations insist that the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) must immediately propose a Committee of Independent Experts, composed of leading African, international, and, if possible, Burundian individuals, regarded for their integrity and impartiality and who have a solid record in international and/or constitutional law. This Committee, to be chaired by a person chosen by consensus, would be mandated to render a binding decision on whether or not Pierre Nkurunziza is eligible under the law to run for a new presidential term, and to implement confidence-building measures for the holding of elections as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the UN, the AU, and the European Union must clearly show that they are ready to respond to the human rights violations that have been observed using the relevant mechanisms established by the charters of these organisations.

The institutions, States, and companies that provide logistical, technical and financial support for the Burundian elections should establish clear conditions for their support and inform the authorities that any assistance will be suspended in the case of human rights violations. Institutions and States that support the training of defense and security forces must do the same.

The UN and the AU must also be ready to intervene should the violence escalate so as to ensure the protection of civilians as quickly as possible.

Finally, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court must make a public and official statement recalling that crimes committed in Burundi may be under the jurisdiction of the Court and that the perpetrators of such crimes must be held accountable.

Download the report "Burundi: Avoiding an explosion" (in French)

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